Film Spotlights Groundbreaking Landscape Architect

North Haven-based filmmaker Karyl Evans, who last year collected a 6th Emmy Award for Outstanding Director for her documentary Letter from Italy, 1944: A New American Oratorio, will screen her latest documentary film, The Life and Gardens of Beatrix Farrand, at the New Haven Documentary Film Festival at Yale on Monday, June 5 at 6:30 p.m. at the Whitney Humanities Center in New Haven.

Photo Courtesy of Karyl EvansEvans’s historical sleuthing, which focuses on Connecticut history, has inspired documentaries for the past 30 years. Her work includes a series of documentaries for public television; “History of African-Americans in Connecticut” and the “History of Connecticut Cities.” New Haven was the subject of a stand-alone documentary entitled “The New Haven Green: Heart of a City,” narrated by actor Paul Giamatti.

Beatrix Farrand (1872-1959) designed world-class gardens and landscapes across the United States and in New Haven. She was a pioneer, carving out a career in the male-dominated field of landscape architecture in the first half of the of the 20th century.

Determined to create a place for herself in a vocation that would blossom into a demanding career, Farrand found creative ways to educate herself in the years before more formal training at Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum and Columbia University. She built on her design acumen through European tours of classical gardens and architecture, absorbing lessons and practices to which she would refer throughout her career. 

Still in her twenties, Farrand became one of the founding members of the American Society of Landscape Architects, a vibrant organization that remains active to this day.

Farrand was the niece of renowned American author Edith Wharton, who entrusted her with the site engineering for the entry drive of The Mount, Wharton’s home in Lenox, Mass. Farrand’s expertise in both horticulture and landscape architecture, coupled with her sensitivities to the physical environment and multi-dimensional approach to garden spaces, became formidable assets and hallmarks of her design expression.

According to a new article by Evans, which appears in Public Garden, the journal of the American Public Gardens Association, Farrand would design “some of the country’s most important landscapes, including Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C.; the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden at the New York Botanical Garden; the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden in Bar Harbor, Me.; and the East Garden at the White House.” 

Farrand lived and worked in New Haven from 1913 - 1927 and was the consulting landscape architect for Yale from 1922 to 1945,  the first woman to be hired by Yale as a landscape consultant with projects that included landscape design for most of the residential college courtyards as well as Marsh Botanical Gardens and landscape plans for the Yale Medical School. Farrand also left a considerable landscape footprint at Princeton University and other educational institutions.

Evans’s lush and visually arresting film was three years in the making, informed by visits to over fifty sites across the country and interviews with gardeners, scholars, and curators, including unpublished research she discovered at the Beatrix Farrand Archives at the University of California at Berkeley.

Perhaps the best way to glean the full scope of Farrand’s 50-year career of over 200 commissions is to attend the June 5 screening at Whitney Humanites Center, 53 Wall Street in New Haven. Future screenings locations will include The National Building Museum, Washington, D.C.; Ocean Reef Garden Club, Key Largo, Fla.; Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, Jacksonville, Fla.; Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy, Washington D.C.; New York City Chapter, American Society of Landscape Architecture; and Arnold Arboretum, Harvard University. DVDs of the film can also be purchased at the film’s website.

Evans was a full-time professor at Southern Connecticut State University. She is currently a fellow at Yale University and one of the organizers of the growing New Haven Documentary Film Festival at Yale.

To listen to a recent archived interview of Evans with WNHH (103.5 FM), “Deep Focus” program host Tom Breen, click on the audio player below.



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